I knew that Pittsfield, MA in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts would have history, but I was not prepared for the wonder of its restored historic buildings — perfect for movie, film, or photography backdrops. Take a walk with me now through its storied architecture!
A Movie Theatre as a Senior Center
Above, behold the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center, which is jauntily housed in the old Capitol Theatre. Glamorous, right? This is right across the street from the Hotel on North — converted from another historic piece of architecture: a 19th century department store.
Repurposing the Marquee
My favorite part of this Pittsfield Senior Center is shown above: the marquee where movie titles used to be displayed is now used to post announcements… such as Farmer’s Market coupons! Brilliant repurposing.
First Agricultural Bank, Pittsfield
Just a few blocks away at 100 North Street, we come to the towering column-filled confection that was the First Agricultural Bank in Pittsfield, shown above. This glorious piece of architecture was built over a hundred years ago in 1908. Architecture like a massive Greek temple in the middle of Western Massachusetts? Sure!
Lamp Posts with Feet?!
An activity to add to my list of things to do in Pittsfield, MA: Hunt for the small details amid these storied edifices. As shown in my photo above, the lamp-posts in front of the First Agricultural Bank have clawed animal feet! They also appear to be squatting in order to lay an egg? I’m not sure what that ball in the middle is supposed to be, but I like it.
Churches of Pittsfield, MA
Pittsfield has an astounding number of churches for a town its size. Each has different and wondrous architecture. Above, we see St. Joseph’s Church (which was dappled with sunlight in a way that took my breath away when I snapped the photo).
Above is the rich red of Zion Lutheran church, which is across the street from famed dessert stop, King Kone. Apparently the actress, Elizabeth Banks, is known for her adoration of that ice cream shop!
Above is Pittsfield’s First Baptist Church, which sits right next to the town’s South Congregational Church, surrounded by trees and red brick buildings. Hence, this view is often the signature Pittsfield photograph! It is so very “Romantic New England.”
Pittsfield’s Park Square and Fountain
A nice segue is to move from Pittsfield’s churches to its delightful, fountain-featuring Park Square — because that square is surrounded by churches, itself! It also hosts the delicious gray and brown stone architecture of the 1876 Berkshire Athenaeum (now called the Bowes Building), pictured below. So much history in the architecture — like Salem, MA.
Melville and Moby Dick Connections
The Bowes Building is now Pittsfield’s public library, and houses collections and artifacts connected to local authors. Since Herman Melville’s Arrowhead home is just a few minutes away, you can be there’s Melville and Moby Dick memorabilia there, too!
Arts in Pittsfield, MA
Given that the population of Pittsfield is just under 44,000, the town has an amazing array of arts — visual, performing, and otherwise — either right on North Street, or a short drive away. How splendid is the public art shown above, giving the inspirational message to remember Quality Time together (riffing off the Tide box design)? I should add it to my list of art prompts…
Pittsfield, MA Theatre
In addition to the historic Colonial Theatre pictured above, the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield is not to be missed. The revival of the musical “Cabaret” that I saw there blew me away, and featured Broadway stars for a fraction of New York prices.
“The Heart of the Berkshires”
Want more performing arts? A short drive from Pittsfield sits Jacob’s Pillow, for dance performances, and Tanglewood for live music, enjoyed in a bucolic outdoor venue. There’s a reason Pittsfield is called “The Heart of the Berkshires” — it’s geographically close to so many attractions in Western Mass, including Mount Greylock — the highest point in MA.
Visual Arts Galore
For visual art, you can revel in the colorful murals of Pittsfield, and the wide range of art on display at the Berkshire Museum, as well as smaller galleries and stories. A short drive away is the Clark Museum in Williamstown, and the modern art of MASS MoCA in North Adams.
Black History in the Berkshires
As seen in the African American History Trail, the Berkshires, MA has a rich and important legacy of Black history. The Pittsfield mural shown below depicts local Black luminaries, W.E.B. Dubois, Elizabeth Freeman, Samuel Harrison, Agrippa Hull, Frances Jones-Sneed, James Van Der Zee, and Stephanie Wilson.
NASA astronaut, Stephanie Wilson
Just around the corner from that mural is another work of public art dedicated to Stephanie Wilson: a NASA astronaut. This former Pittsfield resident was the second Black woman to go into space, and flew three space shuttle missions. Stupendous!
Pittsfield as a Movie Set
Ok, it’s time to talk about the buildings as a whole in Pittsfield, and how their lines and angles — plus historic details — would make the town an ideal set for filming a movie, TV series, short film, or photo stills. My picture below launches this discussion well.
The Wood Brothers Building
See my photo, above? The trifecta of those three pieces of historic architecture together — with modern touches like the blue paint — make me grin from ear to ear. In the middle is my favorite: the 1923 Wood Brothers building, created from 40 tons of cast stone from nearby Millers Falls. The music store that was housed in this edifice is still going strong at another location.
Pittsfield’s Eagle Building
The Eagle Building in Pittsfield, pictured above, is the home of the Berkshire Eagle newspaper — plus a very cool clock tower. The skinny, wedge-shaped structure reminds me of a red brick version of NYC’s Flatiron Building.
Pittsfield High School’s Dome
I spent much of my weekend in Pittsfield ogling an elusive golden-domed tower that was on the edge of town. What could that stately building be? It turns out that it’s Pittsfield High School! Lucky kiddos to get to hang out with that pretty architecture.
Pittsfield’s Wollison–Shipton Building
Hungry for an eye-full of rich red brick? Look no farther than Pittsfield’s Wollison-Shipton Building, built all the way back in 1888. I love that it now houses such a diverse array of stores, from a Mexican eatery to a skate and snow gear shop.
The Transformation of Pittsfield
There’s an important point to add here: Pittsfield has stupendous 19th century buildings and architecture fit for a movie camera — but it’s not a perfectly polished New England postcard town such as Stockbridge (and its Norman Rockwell beloved Red Lion Inn) or Lennox. It’s very much in the process of transformation and restoration… and I love that about it.
For example, take my photo of this brick expanse on North Street, Pittsfield, pictured below. This structure is directly in a liminal space of transition, where there are still old signs up for previous shops, then windows plastered over with advertisements for the new stores that are about to come in after the current renovation.
As a friend who lives in Pittsfield explained, “If you come back to Pittsfield in one year, five years, or ten years, it’s going to look very different. So keep coming back to check out the changes!” This reminds me of the Pietermaai District of Curacao, where older buildings were completely brought back to life by commerce and art, over the course of several years.
Old and New, Juxtaposed
Let’s look at more juxtaposition examples of this old-turned-new dynamic in Pittsfield. Above is one of many new breweries that have opened in town, set against the Old Fire Station — a structure built in 1895! It’s so historic that it was even built with an area to stable horses.
To close this article, I have to ask: Can’t you just imagine an actress being filmed running down the columned alleyway pictured above? And what movies could be shot using the green gazebo and Springside park as the backdrop? C’mon, producers — give Pittsfield a try for your next flick!
Pittsfield, MA Architecture, in Sum
I hope you’ve enjoyed this stroll around the historic buildings of Pittsfield, MA! If you’ve been before, what other spots in the town have amazing architecture, and could make a great movie set? If you haven’t been, which ones are your favorite from these photos? Do share!
Want more? Check out “30 Famous Buildings: Architecture Around the World!”
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!